decree, Judge Bryant set a 1,694 inmate limit to the Jail's population. In view of facts indicating that, with the exception of short daily periods when prisoners were counted, the District had consistently exceeded the 1,694 inmate ceiling, Judge Bryant subsequently entered an oral order on September 29, 1988, requiring the District to comply, in spirit and in fact, with the actual cap of 1,694 at the D.C. Jail. Campbell v. McGruder, Civil Action No. 71-1462 (D.D.C.).
The recent litigation involving the District's Central Facility at Lorton reveals a similarly bleak cycle of dismal conditions, disregarded court decrees, and duplicative contempt citations. On August 1, 1988, the interminable overcrowding, fires, and riots at Central lead Judge June Green to order a population cap on the prison. Twelve John Does v. District of Columbia, Civil Action No. 80-2136 (D.D.C.). Judge June Green ordered, inter alia, (1) that no additional inmates be admitted to the District of Columbia's Central Facility at Lorton after August 8, 1988, (2) that by September 1, 1988, the population at Central must be reduced by at least 150 inmates, and (3) that the population at Central must be reduced every 30 days thereafter by at least 150 inmates until the population reaches 1,166 inmates, the ceiling imposed upon Central under a 1982 consent decree. That order was promptly stayed pending appeal by the Court of Appeals. On September 29, 1988, however, following full briefing and argument, the Court of Appeals vacated the stay and affirmed Judge Green's order.
Over the past decade, the federal government has made abundant efforts to help the District alleviate its prison crisis. The Attorney General has persuaded Congress to obtain funding appropriated for new District prison facilities, located and tendered federal sites within the District for a new prison, and provided the District with a sophisticated analysis of modular facilities vendors and offered the District the technical assistance necessary to place the modular facilities on appropriate sites. Memorandum of Points and authorities in Support of Plaintiff's Motions for Temporary Restraining Order and for Preliminary Injunction, exhibits A, B, and J.
In addition, when faced with the District's unresponsiveness to the overcrowding crisis and numerous court orders, the Attorney General has, on occasion, temporarily ceased designating the District's correctional facilities as places of confinement for prisoners convicted in Superior Court and designated federal prisons in their place. On August 21, 1985, acting pursuant to D.C. Code § 24-425, the Deputy Attorney General advised the Mayor that, as an interim solution, the Attorney General would designate federal prisons for all the District's sentenced prisoners.
The Government's offer of assistance was conditioned upon the District's immediate construction of modular facilities and its taking all other necessary steps to relieve the crisis. Id., exhibit B. Five months later, when the District had failed to fulfill its promises, the Deputy Attorney General announced that the Department of Justice would stop taking all D.C. prisoners into federal custody. Nevertheless, after the July, 1986 riot at Occoquan, the Attorney General again came to the District's rescue and took 300 D.C. prisoners into federal facilities.
The District's response to the federal government's multiple efforts has been dilatory at best.
First, despite the appropriation of funding to build new prison facilities in 1986, the District anticipates that it will be years before new facilities are completed. Second, the District has steadfastly refused to take the obvious emergency measure of placing on vacant sites within the District modular facilities to provide temporary accommodations for excess prison populations. Third, the District has failed to utilize adequately such available measures as contracting out with public or private facilities or housing prisoners at other secure facilities in the District such as Saint Elizabeths Hospital. See Id., exhibit H; see also id., exhibit B (noting the District's lack of "parallel effort" to alleviate the overcrowding crisis). Finally, despite the District's absolute and unequivocal admission of responsibility for housing all D.C. Code violators,
the Mayor has periodically denied his responsibility and threatened to stop housing D.C. prisoners.
It is in light of this history of the District's lax effort to deal effectively with its two-decade-old prison crisis that the current action must be viewed. In a calculated attempt to "comply" with Judge Bryant's and Judge Green's Population caps, the District has now locked its prison doors, flagrantly reneging on its agreement with the Attorney General to solve responsibly the District's Overcrowding crisis by expanding its facilities. The District now maintains that, pursuant to D.C. Code § 24-425, the Attorney General must assume physical custody of, and provide long-term housing for, the prisoners designated to D.C. facilities whom the District turns away. The United States counters that, pursuant to the same D.C. Code section, responsibility lies with the District to house the prisoners in District facilities, whether or not they exceed court-ordered population caps, and to utilize District resources to establish emergency relief. It is to the resulting conflicting interpretations and applications of D.C. Code § 24-425 that the Court now turns.
In interpreting D.C. Code § 24-425, plaintiff and defendants derive diametrically opposed doctrines from the language of the statute. D.C. Code § 24-425 provides that:
All prisoners convicted in the District of Columbia for any offense, including violations of municipal regulations and ordinances and acts of Congress in the nature of municipal regulations and ordinances, shall be committed, for their terms of imprisonment, and to such types of institutions as the court may direct, to the custody of the Attorney General of the United States or his authorized representative, who shall designate the places of confinements where the sentences of all such persons shall be served. The Attorney General may designate any available, suitable, and appropriate institutions, whether maintained by the District of Columbia government, the federal government, or otherwise, or whether within or without the District of Columbia. The Attorney General is also authorized to order the transfer of any such person from one institution to another if, in his judgment, it shall be for the well-being of the prisoner or relieve overcrowding or unhealthful conditions in the institution where such prisoner is confined, or for other reasons.